Identifying if it is a Project or Process?

Google the Project Management Institute (PMI) definition of a project, and you’ll find that a project is a unique endeavor with a distinct beginning and end that is not repeatable. This is a straightforward concept for your textbook project manager to understand, but your business managers may not see it this way. New process rollouts are certainly projects, but where does the process start and the project end?

Planning the Project

Like any other project, designing a new business process involves defining the scope of the change and the appropriate stakeholders.

The scope includes:

  1. analysis & design of the new process
  2. documentation of that process
  3. rollout of the changes
    1. organizational change management
    2. communication
    3. training

Designing the New Process

How it works the first time vs how it should happen every time is where teams get hung-up on the change. Documenting the before-and-after is great for conceptualizing the change for end-users, and exactly the content your training team needs for their initial rollout curriculum.

The deliverable of this step, however, is the long-term policy & procedure documentation that your team will reference years after the change has been implemented. A new employee should be able to pull-up this documentation and any related job aids and trainings without any prior knowledge or context for how it “used to be done”.

Planning the Rollout

Will this be a “big bang” rollout, gradual, or on pilot basis? If it’s a phased rollout, what is the timeline for the rollout? Pilots – What is the pilot timeline and what are the success and failure criteria?

How will you communicate this rollout plan to the company? You don’t want your teams to hear about one part of the company enjoying the new features and process without knowing when they will get their hands on the shiny new tools. Nor do you want your pilot team to sit on a process that isn’t working for them for longer than they absolutely need to in order to evaluate the impact of the change.

If the project is big bang, how should the change be communicated differently to different departments? The change may barely impact your accounting team, but may make a big difference in how your customer care team handles customer inquiries regarding the new process. Don’t forget to make sure your training department has enough resources to roll out the change across the board! And make sure that each impacted manager communicates with their teams on what the change means specifically to them.

Implementing the Initial Training

Rollout training leans heavily on understanding the existing processes and comparing and contrasting the as-is to the to-be. This helps your team members understand how the change impacts their day-to-day, rather than as an abstract concept upper-management is shoving down their throats. Change is scary, and making sure that your team members feel supported in the transition phases eases that fear of the unknown and reassures them that leadership cares about their individual success at the company.

Institutionalizing On-going Training

This is where the word “repeatable” becomes key. Once the initial training has been completed, any on-going training meant to address team turnover should be considered process. Certainly, if this curriculum is different from the initial training, the design and delivery of the curriculum may be considered part of the project, but the actual training activities themselves become process.

Ensuring that the training materials are created and stored somewhere they can be used over and over again is a part of the project. The ongoing maintenance and use of the training, however, is an operational activity that should be overseen by either the training department or the process owner. Updates to training based on later projects should be considered part of the new project.

Bottom Line

Whether an activity is part of the project or part of the process boils down to who is responsible for the activity and whether the activity is repeatable. Your project manager should be free to move on from a project once the operations team has the new process in place. To that end, unless a new project is chartered, the project manager transitions the process to your operations team and becomes free to focus on the next project on your to-do list.